Second Sunday after the Epiphany - 20 January 2019
Rev. John Derme
Do you ever ask God for help? If you do, what happens when you ask? Does he always give you exactly what you ask for? I ask God for help, but he doesn't usually give me what I want. That may be why some of you don't ask God for help. He's not going to give you the help you ask for, anyway. Why set yourself up for disappointment? Or maybe he won't even help at all, because you don't have anything important enough for him to help you with. When you ask God for help, but you don't get the help that you want, it makes you want to ask, "Where in the world is God?"
There was one person who wasn't afraid to ask Jesus for help, and that was his mother Mary. Mary wanted Jesus' help with a wedding feast in a little village called Cana, near Nazareth. Mary and Jesus must have been friends or even family of the bride or groom. Jesus hadn't been invited because he was a famous person. He was just an ordinary wedding guest, or so many of the people thought. It seems that Mary was involved with serving refreshments, because she became aware of a certain problem right away. The wedding couple ran out of wine.
Now, if you or I were at a wedding, where they ran out of wine, we would simply have something else to drink. No big deal. But running out of wine at Jesus' time was a very big deal. There was nothing else to drink. And it was said that without wine, there could be no rejoicing. This was not becuase people wanted to get drunk; in their society, drunkenness was not acceptable. But it was also unacceptable to be a bad host for your guests. The groom and his family could have suffered a legal penalty for not providing enough wine to be hospitible.
Cana was a small town. This wedding may have been the biggest event in the town all year long. If they ran out of wine, everybody would know it, and that reputation might have stuck with the groom for the rest of his life. This situation may not seem like a big deal, but it was a real need.
So Mary came to Jesus for help. She didn't tell him what she wanted him to do, but she trusted that he would do something about it. She even told the servants to do whatever Jesus would ask them to do. But that was all she did. Then she got out of the way and let Jesus handle it. And she was right. He did help her. He helped the bride and groom. He helped all of the people at the wedding. He told those servants to fill huge stone water jars. He told them to take some of the water out and give it to the head waiter. By the time he tasted it, it wasn't water anymore. It was wine. It was very good wine. It was so good that the waiter was surprised that it hadn't come out sooner.
Jesus helped Mary with the problem she discovered, helped the groom by saving him from disgrace, helped everybody there by providing them with something to drink, and he helped his disciples to believe in him. Even if none of the other guests knew what had happened, Jesus' disciples knew. This miracle was a sign to reveal his glory to them, so that they would recognize who he was and trust in him like Mary had trusted in him.
But of course Mary asked Jesus for help. She was his mother. That is what mothers do to their kids. My mom always asked me (or forced me) to help other people, and when I was young I hated it. And now I do that exact thing to my own children, because it was good for me and it is good for them. But we shouldn't just assume that we can ask or force Jesus to help us, right?
Many of the things that we need help with are so ordinary. We don't bother Jesus about those, because we don't want to or don't remember to ask him for help with all of those everyday things all the time. And when we do ask for help, we often don't recognize when he is helping us, anyway. We think he isn't going to help, because he doesn't always do it the way we want him to do it. Rather than trusting him, we ask, "Where in the world is God?" When we get angry with him rather than trusting in him, we reject his help and are on our own. But without Jesus' help, our lives will be miserable here on earth, and we will not be able to get to heaven.
Jesus does want to help you. And he has helped you in ways that you haven't even realized. For example, did you realize that when Jesus was helping all those people at the wedding in Cana, he was helping you? One huge part of his work as our Savior is that Jesus did perfectly all of the good things that we have not done. We have not always helped other people as we should. But Jesus helped other people in our place. When Jesus helped them, he was being your Savior.
Jesus hasn't just helped you in the past, though. He still helps you every single day. And yes, he helps you with all of your ordinary needs. Since he helped all those people at the wedding in Cana with something that seems like no big deal to us, you can be certain that he cares about other things that may seem like no big deal. All of our problems are important to him, big or small.
When Jesus helps us, he always helps in the way that is best for us in all our needs. That's true even when we think we know exactly the help we need from him. When he gives us something different than what we ask, it's because he knows that would be better for us. Like Mary, who didn't tell Jesus what to do, but did tell the servants to do whatever he asked, we can ask Jesus to do whatever he wants to help us.
When Jesus helps you, he is revealing his glory to you. Recognize the help that he provides you, and trust in him. The ways that he reveals his glory are, paradoxically, hard to see. You may not always be able to discern his working for your good. But that doesn't mean it isn't happening. In fact, that is exactly how Jesus likes to work.
Hiding his glory when he reveals it is exactly how Jesus helps you here in church. For example, Jesus reveals his glory through the Bible. It's powerful to create and strengthen faith. But that power is hidden behind simple words written on a page and spoken by a sinful pastor. Jesus also reveals his glory through his Holy Communion. It's powerful to forgive sins. But that power is hidden behind simple bread and wine distributed by sinful hands. We would like for heaven to open above us and for God to announce that we are saved. And that is what he is saying in his Word and sacraments. He works through them to get us to heaven. But not everybody sees it. The glory is revealed, yet still hidden. When we see that glory, we know that we are his disciples. Because he has helped us, we trust in him.
But we know that Jesus doesn’t just want to help us. Just as he helped all the people at the wedding, whether they realized it or not, Jesus lived and died to help all people of the world. And he still works to help all people, because he wants to bless and save them, too. When Jesus helped those wedding guests, he worked through the hands of the servants who filled the water jars. He could have called out the groom and used his hands to do the miracle. But he gave that honor to the servants. So also, Jesus still works through the hands of his servants to help people. Jesus doesn't tell you and me that we have to do any miracles, but he does call us to do work for him. Usually that work looks simple and ordinary. But through you he does extraordinary things to help people.
For example, many of you provide snacks for fellowship time after church on Sunday morning. It can be a lot of work, but it can also seem pretty ordinary. Yet those snacks give people the chance to visit. They give people opportunities to invite others down to the fellowship hall after church to talk. And when they are talking, that someone may invite the guest back to church or encourage that fellow member in the way that he needed. And neither the person who made the snacks nor the person who took that opportunity to talk realized it, but Jesus was using both of them to help a person who needed it.
We often don't realize it when Jesus is helping through us. And we often don't realize it when Jesus is helping us. But he has helped us with his life and with his gospel so that we can go to heaven. And Jesus helps us and others in countless ordinary ways every day. So ask him for help with problems big and small! Where in the world is God? He is here, helping you!