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 concern is that to you and to me? 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 chief steward.’ So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward 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. John 2: 1-11 NRSV
By From English Wikipedia: en:Image:Creation of Adam.jpg [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
Do you see signs from God? How do you know?
There is a old story that was shared when I was at seminary. There once was a young man who was struggling with what to do in life. He was out working in the field when he looked up and saw the clouds formed a perfect letter “P” and “C” in the sky. He determined that it must be a sign from God that he should “Preach Christ,” so he enrolled in the seminary. After a time, he wasn’t doing very well in his classes and a professor called him into his office.
“Tell me,” the professor asked gently, “What lead you to come to the seminary?”
The young man shared with him the sign in the clouds forming a perfect letter “P” and “C” and how he was sure it was a sign from God that he should preach Christ. The professor looked over his glasses at the young man and said, “I’m pretty sure God meant, ‘plant corn.'”
There is another story, you may have heard, about the young man who was deeply troubled and desperately wanted God to give him some direction. So he decided that if he closed his eyes, opened his bible and pointed to a verse, that whatever verse his finger landed on would be direction from God.
So he closed his eyes, let his bible fall open, and pointed his finger. The verse that his finger pointed to was. “…And Judas went out and hanged himself.” Not sure what that meant he decided to try again. So he closed his eyes, allowed his bible to flop open, and pointed. This time his finger landed on the verse, “Go and do likewise.”
Do you see signs from God? How do you know?
I don’t want to give you the impression that I don’t believe God is active in our world, or that God does not give us signs, but I do want to caution you and invite you to think about the interpretation we give the sign we think we perceive. Every sign requires an interpretation. Neuroscientist tells us that within mill-seconds of seeing something our brains attach a meaning to what we see. We also assume that the meaning we attach is completely true. We almost never question the meaning we attach. This can be problematic for us in our relationships with each other and with God.
Despite our advances in technology, or the decline of people finding “organized religion” helpful, there remains an amazing hunger for a sense of God’s presence. Googling “God’s presence in nature” returns 30,500,000 hits. If you click on “images” you will discover all kinds of pictures of places where people have seen signs of God’s presence. There are pictures of everything from crosses in the sky, like the one pictured below, to clouds forming hands, or outlines of angels, or leaves in the shape of hearts, etc., etc., etc.,
By Sastognuti (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Some have interesting stories that go along with them. For example there is a picture of a cloud formation that many people see as the outline an angel that appeared over Denver, Colorado a couple of days after the Columbine School shooting.
There is a picture posted on FaceBook by Patti Burke who says the markings she found a goldfish are a direct message from God. The cracker in question has two markings, or imperfections, on its surface. Burke says the first marking is of a cross with a circle around it. The second marking, near the head of the fish, represents a golden crown.
Another posting on FaceBook was the picture of a heart shaped Doppler image of a storm. “One night I was struggling badly as a storm was going over,” wrote the person who posted it. I felt like the Lord was saying to my heart, “I am here through your storm.” His love stays strong through whatever storm we are going through, and He’s right in the midst of our storms.
An iridescent cloud appeared over Costa Rica in September of last year. Many people saw it and there are many pictures of it. What is interesting about this relatively rare meteorological phenomenon is that some people saw it a a sign of God’s presence while others saw it as portent of the end of the world.
What meaning do we attach to signs? What are signs of God’s presence?
All this talk of signs was prompted by the last verse of the story of Jesus turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana. We are told, “Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.” Clearly the bible tells us Jesus preformed signs. John ends his gospel with these words, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:30) So Jesus performed did a lot of signs.
If we are to understand God’s signs better it may be helpful to take a closer look at what is going on in Jesus’ first sign.
The story begins with a common part of life. Jesus’ mother, Jesus and his disciples are at a wedding reception. Only the Israelite people knew how to party. They would party and feast for at least three days. Sometime after the celebration has been going on a while there is a terrible social blunder. The bridegroom runs out of wine. It is hard for us to get our minds around just how big a deal this is in ancient culture. It is cause for intense social shame. Jesus’ mother tells Jesus, and after protesting, Jesus turns six big jars containing 20 to 30 gallons of water into wine.
As a side note it is interesting to note that Jesus does this after it is implied that the guests are all ready drunk. None-the-less, the emphasis in the story is on how good of wine it really is, on Jesus redeeming and bringing grace into a shameful social situation, and on the Old Testament understanding of an abundance of wine being a sense of God’s blessing.
The sign points to Jesus. It helps his disciples and better see and understand who Jesus is. In this sign preformed by Jesus the very nature of glory is being redefined. It is glory with a silent purpose and aim, to create and maintain faith in Christ Jesus who responds to human need in ways that seem hidden and mysterious, but whose deeds are open to the eyes of faith.
When it comes to signs today. They also are perceived with the eyes of faith. Yet, we need to be careful about our interpretations. I would like to share with you some helpful perspectives to keep in mind as you think about the meaning of signs you perceive.
- It may be helpful to ask yourself, “Is the ‘sign’ consistent with how we have seen God active in the past? In scripture?” God can do a new thing, but most often God acts in ways consistent with the ways God has acted in the past?
- We believe Jesus is the clearest revelation of who God is. Is our interpretation consistent with what we see in Jesus?
- Martin Luther says that to really know God, we must see Him as He is hidden in Christ. He says, “He who does not know Christ does not know God hidden in suffering.” Are we open to seeing God in negative experiences and suffering?
- Interpreting God’s presence is never something that we should do alone. It is important to have a community of faith – people you can talk to about faith, God, and life. I think everybody should be in a small group. If I had my way everyone would be in a small group where you can share intimate concerns and ideas, and ask hard questions about God and life.
- Do you come away with a sense of God’s grace and love? John speaking about Jesus in chapter 1 says: “From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.”
God knows that as human beings we need signs of God’s presence in our lives. God knows that often there can be be a fair about of ambiguity to our trying to figure out what is a sign, and what a sign might mean. That is why God gave us two unambiguous signs for our Christian life.
I know it may sound like boring doctrine, but there really is great comfort and truth in the fact that we don’t have to wonder about the signs of baptism and communion. In the plain everyday sign of water, God has promised to meet us, give us God’s Holy Spirit, claimed us as God’s children, and forgiven us. This sign comes with Jesus promise attached the water. There is no ambiguity about that.
By John Snyder (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
The same is true for communion. Jesus promises to meet us in the bread and the wine. “This is my body given for you.” “This is my blood shed for you.” We have Jesus promise that he is here in, with and under the bread and wine. We have his promise that we are forgiven and loved. Jesus promise takes away the ambiguity and guess work. We don’t have to wonder what it means. We don’t have to wonder if it actually is a sign from God.
God knows we need something concrete some assurance that God is in fact still with us. We need to know that God is still active and involved in our lives. In communion God meets us not just once, but on an on-going basis reminding us that we are forgiven and loved, claimed and renewed. We are remind God continues to strengthen us and walk with us.
These are our signs. No ambiguity here. The eyes of faith allow us to see them for what they are. May God grant you the eyes of faith to see God’s presence in your life – so that your faith might be strengthened and your hope renewed.