... Ecclesiastes 2:26 ...
Cast your bread upon the waters,
for you will find it after many days.

Epiphany 2 Year C
Message January 20, 2013

New Life; New Name; New Hope

Text: Isaiah 62:1-5; Psalm 36:5-10; 1Corinthians 12:1-11; John 2:1-11

Perhaps the overarching theme of Epiphany and its season is the response to God’s self-disclosure by whatever means. Through that self-disclosure God has in every age changed the course of human behaviour, human self-understanding and human relationships. And in every situation the result has been marked by a new name. Last week we celebrated the Baptism of our Lord and we heard how Jesus once baptized responded with prayer and was called by a new Name by God – my Son. While it is true that Jesus was probably aware of the relationship to begin with, the first expressed name of Son was verbalized at the Baptism.

Yet this is not the only occurrence this has happened. Throughout Scriptural history God’s chosen people have been named and renamed by God at various times and in various circumstances. Abraham did not start out so named. A close reading shows that God called Abram and Sarai out of Ur. In response to their obedience and Abram’s willingness to submit not only himself but his son to God’s will, God renamed them Abraham and Sarah. Jacob likewise having battled the Lord and successfully lived and changed was given a new name by the Lord – Israel, and from that arose the nation Israel. In a parallel line the nation Israel throughout the years had been named and renamed. So it is no surprise, that in the reading from the Book of Isaiah, we hear God once again call Israel by a new name – in fact 2 new names: Hephzibah and Beulah.

To help us understand the context of this we need to know a little more of the situation in which Israel found herself. As a nation Israel had forsaken God, had turned from proper worship to chasing of idols and living like her neighbours. Her rulers for the most part, had abandoned their rightful duties in favour of nepotism, greed and self-serving life-styles. In consequence of this the people were sent into exile – an exile prophesied both by Jeremiah and the author known as First Isaiah. This exile was a brutal awakening for the nation which considered itself God’s chosen. However in Second Isaiah we get a glimmer of hope that the relationship between God and the people might be restored and by the time we read the prophecies of the Third Isaiah writings (chapters 60-62) we hear a proclamation of that glimmer in the renaming of the nation.

To summarize – God chooses Israel as a nation – the nation for a time revels in its relationship but the lure of the life-styles of those around her seduce her from her calling and she turns away. She suffers and in that suffering her name has become Azubah meaning Forsaken, and Shememah meaning desolate. Now Having served her punishment and realizing her wayward ways she is about to be reconciled and brought back into the former proper relationship and will now be renamed Hephzibah meaning “My Delight is in her”, and Beulah meaning “Married”.

The newness and the implications are illustrated on the human level as the relationship between a young man and a young woman who marry. Indeed the parallel can be taken further as most of us know by pointing out that often in marriage there is a name change – the traditional begin the woman takes her husband’s name signifying the new relationship and the new family unit. In modern situations the couple will often hyphenate the two surnames into one. The symbolism is that where previously there were two individuals with separate characteristics, life-style goals etc., there is new a conjoined coupling in which the separate characteristics by compromise and mutual efforts become a new set of characteristics goals and hopes and desires. And there is joy.

The joy of Israel in God’s renewal of their relationship is expressed nicely in the Psalm for today where, in the language of love, the relationship between God and Israel, between God and humanity, and between God and Creation is expressed.

While the reading from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians might seem out of place on first reading, the language and the gift of the Spirit are in the context of the new relationship and how in that new relationship each gift works in concert with every other gift to provide meaning and purpose for the whole.

The familiar story of the wedding at Cana where the water is turned into wine again is a story of old versus new, of change and of renaming. The setting, the language, the dialogue between Jesus and his mother and the twists and turns, all add to the mystery of the miracle. The water jars which heretofore would have been used solely for holding the water for purification now become the wine kegs holding not the means of adhering to the old ways, but the means for exuberant celebration. Water becomes wine. We are never told directly that Jesus turned the water to wine, but by connecting the sequence of events – Jesus tells the servants to take the water jars to the steward and the steward takes the wine and the disciples believed. The whole of the story is reported in such a way as we, along with the disciples, are the ones able to connect the dots and see the old become the new. We see the old lack-luster religion with its emphasis on rules and regulations become the new religion in which there is celebration joy and hospitality. We intimate that there is a marriage between old and new in which something different , something more dynamic and something more celebratory is about to take place.

Were we to read the next few chapters of John we would realize that the 1st miracle at Cana ends back at Cana of Galilee where Jesus gives life back to the son of a royal official. However in the cycle we have water turned to wine, rebirth explained to Nicodemus, living and thirst-quenching water at the well and restored life. All pivot on the theme of new life, abundant life and Spirit-filled life.

Epiphany is about God’s self-disclosure but it’s also the reason of new life, new meaning and new names as a response to experiencing that divine self-manifestation. In our baptisms we are marked by God and destined for a newness and a new name – children of God, brothers and sisters of Jesus, and as such invited into a new relationship – a relationship in which there can be experienced abundance joy hope and celebration.

As we continue through the season of Epiphany I invite you to look at the theme of being called, given a new name or identity and the abundance made available in obedience to be called and re-named.

Let us pray.

Almighty God we give you thanks that you have made yourself known to us and have invited us into covenant with you through your son Jesus. In his baptism he unites us to himself and so we are washed and renamed in our baptism. May we also be obedient to you and through Him receive the gifts of the Spirit that working in us those gifts may become the avenues of light and help to the nation, bringing glory to your Name and abundance to your people. All this we pray in the name of Christ our Saviour who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit now and forever.

Amen