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wine and marriage

John 2:1-11

Rev. Andrew Eckert

Second Sunday after Epiphany
St. Paul's Lutheran Church  
Wellston, Oklahoma

Sun, Jan 17, 2010 

Today in the Holy Gospel, Jesus affirms and supports two good gifts of God: First, alcohol.  Second, marriage.

The two gifts are very similar.  Both were created in the beginning for a good purpose.  Both can fall into corruption and abuse.  Both have a higher purpose that points to Christ.

You could say that wine was created before marriage, since the plants and their fruit were made by God on the third day of creation, before man.  The grapes, as well as barley, hops, and so forth, already had all the chemical properties put into them by God.  When fermented, they would become a drink that makes the heart of man glad, as He says in Psalm 104.

At a wedding, when spirits should be lifted up from the ordinary weariness of life, it is good for a little extra alcohol to flow.  Christ, by His actions, testifies to this.  When wine had already been drunk and people were experiencing some intoxication, then He made even more wine - a lot more.  If it was not okay to have a little extra alcohol at a wedding, then Jesus sinned by leading others to sin.  But we know that Christ our Lord could never sin.  Therefore, it is okay to serve alcohol more freely on the occasion of a wedding.

We should not think that times were different then, so what they did no longer applies to us.  Today, we might be tempted to believe that the presence of people who might be offended by the use of alcohol should cause us to cut back on its use.  But the same kind of people lived then.  Many were offended that Christ drank alcohol in public.  The Pharisees of His day are almost indistinguishable from the Pietists of our day.  Yet Christ did not say, "Maybe I should not turn water into wine because I might offend someone."

So alcohol is misused when people call it evil.  Alcohol is a good creation of our Lord for a good purpose.  To say that drinking in moderation is sinful is one way to abuse alcohol.

Another way to abuse it, of course, is to overuse it.  If we treat alcohol as a god in our heart, then that is abuse.  If our use of alcohol causes our families to suffer or our bodies to be damaged, then we sin in that way.  If we use alcohol in such a way as to break the laws of this nation, then that is abuse as well.

It is very hard to act perfectly in this.  As Doctor Luther put it, we so easily fall off the horse on one side or the other.  It is so hard to maintain a perfect practice of moderation, without slipping a little too far out of the center.  Our corrupt hearts naturally move in one direction or the other, to either despise the gift or overuse it.  Both positions take a good thing from God and corrupt it by our attitude and actions.  So to despise the good gift is exactly as sinful as using it negligently.

The same is true of marriage.  Many in our land treat marriage with scorn.  By living together and sleeping together outside of marriage, they declare that they have no respect for God's institution of marriage.  So many are saying that it is only a human arrangement, or only a piece of paper, or that they need to try out their partner before they enter into marriage.  Some support the abomination of homosexual marriage.  Other support free divorce for reasons besides infidelity.

Even if you are not occupying one of these extreme positions, it is extremely hard not to abuse the gift of marriage.  Whether married or not, we twist our sexuality into sin by lust and indecent talk.  We have hearts programmed by sin to be selfish and self-centered, whereas marriage is about selflessly living for your spouse.  In fact, it is not only very hard to live in perfect love with your spouse, it is impossible.  Far from perfect love, we are full of sin each day, which casts constant blemishes upon our marriages.

So, whether we abuse marriage by sin or by despising marriage itself, we are sinning against God's precious gift.

It will not help to try to get rid of the gifts and so to avoid sin.  As Luther said, wine and women cause all kinds of trouble, but we do not therefore get rid of all wine and women.  That is not the solution for us.

The solution is Christ Himself.  He must be present with us for all gifts to be good.  After all, He was there in the beginning at their creation.  Through Him, all things were made, including both alcohol and marriage.  He knows their good purposes, since He is the one who designed them for our benefit.

We have neglected and abused many of His gifts.  Yet He does not therefore get rid of us.  That is not His solution, although He would be justified in doing so.  We deserve the depths of hell because we have the sinful audacity to look the Creator in the eye and tell Him that His gifts are no good.  We have the abusive sinfulness to twist His precious gifts into corrupt and abominable purposes.  Yet He does not cast us away into the darkness as we deserve.

Instead, He makes Himself present in all parts of our lives.  He attends our marriages.  He sits at table when we eat and drink. He is intensely interested in helping us in every need.

So He sees to it that our marriages have every resource and blessing necessary to thrive.  From the very first, He is the one who draws man and woman together in love.  He is the one who binds them as one.  He earnestly works to keep our marriages together, even against our own efforts to tear ourselves apart.  He forgives, and leads us to forgive, every transgression against the marriage union.  He does not throw His hands up in the air in disgust at our sinfulness and leave us to fend for ourselves.  In the same way, He was not ashamed to attend the wedding of two sinners in Cana.  He did not say, "Well, this will be a miserable marriage since these two are such lousy sinners."  No, He supports and helps all our marriages by His grace.

Likewise, He blesses our tables with His presence.  Every gift we receive with thanksgiving is sanctified by Him, as St. Paul says.  Every food and drink that passes our lips is from the Lord's gracious love, and He leads us to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.  To receive alcohol with a grateful heart is therefore a good work in God's sight, and good stewardship of His blessing.

But He does far more than simply bless you with His presence.  He Himself has become your righteousness in all things.  He drank alcohol in perfect moderation, and His perfection is counted as yours.  He treated marriage with absolute respect, without a hint of sinful lust or crudeness in His heart.  His immaculately pure heart is counted as yours.

It does not matter before God whether you have sinned by teetotalling or sinned by overindulgence.  It does not matter before God if you cheated on your spouse or divorced a dozen times.  For you are in Christ, and you are a new creation in Him.  His holiness covers over all your sins.  His glory erases your shame.

His glory is this: That He has become the true Wine, and He has become the true Bridegroom.

Christ is the best Wine of all, better than all the earthly wines before Him.  He alone truly makes human hearts merry for all eternity, since He redeems you by His blood.  He joins Himself to earthly wine in the great Communion of this Altar.  This wine is His Blood.  He is here, in the cup that you drink.  Far from calling alcohol evil, Christ has even submitted Himself to joining Himself as one with alcohol in this holy Sacrament.  This He has done to give you the forgiveness of sins, and with it, life and salvation.

He is also the great Bridegroom above all bridegrooms, who loved His Bride so much that He sacrificed His life for her.  He gave Himself in her place, body and soul, even into the most horrible suffering that can be felt.  No husband has ever loved his wife so much as Christ.

And you are that wife, the bride of Christ.  You are the one for whom He gave Himself, so that you are forever His.  He shall take you into His home, the eternal mansions of glory in the new heaven and new earth, where there will be the eternal wedding banquet flowing with the finest food and drink.  There Christ shall make you forever one with Him, so that His glory and immortality and holiness will be yours.  For that is what a good husband does by giving everything that he is for his wife.

In His Name, the Bridegroom of the Church, whose Blood is the wine of the New Covenant, who is your life.  Amen.

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