Sermon notes 01-16-22 A New, Best, Last Name
[Isaiah 62:1-5] For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet, until her righteousness goes forth as brightness, and her salvation as a burning torch.  The nations shall see your righteousness, and all the kings your glory, and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will give.  You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.  You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate, but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the LORD delights in you, and your land shall be married.  For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your sons marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you. (ESV)
[John 2:1-11] On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there.  Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples.  When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.”  And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.”  His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”  Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons.  Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim.  And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it.  When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom  and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.”  This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him. (ESV)
Both of our Scripture passages this morning make reference to weddings. First, we heard the Old Testament prophet Isaiah use the metaphor of a young man marrying a young woman to illustrate the rejoicing that would be restored to the desolate land of Israel when the Hebrew people returned from their exile in Babylon.
Then we heard, from the Gospel of John, the story of Jesus changing water into wine at a wedding feast. So, I am going to stick with a wedding theme this morning, and for the next few minutes I want us to think together about weddings: what a wedding signifies, what happens as a result of a wedding; and how a wedding is a beautiful symbol of our personal relationship with God.
One of my favorite things that I get to do as a pastor is to officiate at weddings. I have had the privilege of officiating at several dozen weddings. One of the best parts of having that privilege is getting to know the couple before the wedding during the course of providing premarital counseling.
When I conduct pre-marital counseling sessions with a couple engaged to be married, my goal is to get the couple to focus on the marriage that will follow the wedding, but more often than not, the couple is more interested in talking about the wedding itself. I am always aware how very important it is to the couple that everything goes well on the wedding day—and I certainly understand that! If anyone close to you has ever gotten married, you know that an incredible amount of energy and effort and often, anxiety, goes into planning all the details of the wedding day, usually more from the bride’s side than the groom’s. The groom is usually expected to do what is asked of him, while the details are left mostly up to the bride—not entirely, but mostly. In premarital counseling sessions I try to remind the couple seeking to be married that the one essential thing about their wedding is that it results in their being married. I tell them to try not to fret too much about all the other details of the wedding, because as a rule, no matter how thoroughly they plan the details of the wedding, something will not go as planned. The wedding at Cana of Galilee was no exception to this rule.
It has been said that weddings are accidents waiting to happen. We have all either witnessed a wedding accident personally, or we have at least seen videos of wedding accidents or bloopers.
You know… things like grooms fainting, or brides tripping, or preachers misspeaking, or wardrobes malfunctioning, or flower girls and ring bearers not cooperating, or structures collapsing under the weight of the wedding party; not to mention the all-too-prevalent dance floor disasters at wedding receptions.
But even if there is not a major accident, it seems there is always something that does not go as planned at a wedding, and in the account of the wedding at Cana, Mary the mother of Jesus realizes something is about to go decidedly not as planned. In fact, something has gone terribly wrong at this wedding, but Jesus miraculously intervenes in response to his mother’s plea to avert disaster.
Now you might think that “disaster” is too strong a word to describe the situation at the wedding in Cana. But we should consider that in the time of Christ, when a couple got married, they did not celebrate with a honeymoon like they do in our culture today; they customarily celebrated with a seven-day feast at the home of the groom. It is important for us to understand that in their culture, hospitality was everything. To run out of provisions for the wedding celebration would have meant complete humiliation and disgrace for this family. The four words Mary whispers to Jesus, “They have no wine” were truly words of disastrous import.
I love the way this scene is depicted in this icon.
Notice that no one in this wedding party looks very happy. You can see the look of serious concern on these faces. The father of the bride is holding up his glass wanting a refill. The groom is looking desperately toward Jesus and Mary. He seems to be thinking, ‘They’re whispering about our humiliation in running out of wine.’ Maybe he is looking to Jesus hoping that somehow, Jesus will help.
We know of course that, at the behest of his mother, Jesus does help. He seems to do so with some resistance, and his response to his mother sounds rather rude to our modern ears. Scholars tell us that Jesus’ words to his mother would not, in that time and culture, have been regarded as at all disrespectful; but at the very least Jesus seems to be rather evasive when he says to his mother, “What does that have to do with me?” I think maybe when he said that to her, he gave her a wink, because she does not seem to have any doubts that he will act. She says to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
In this icon, as Mary whispers to Jesus, he extends his hand toward the servant filling the water jars. John tells us that after the jars are filled, Jesus says to the servants, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” There is no indication that Jesus tastes the wine first himself; it is evidently unnecessary for him to do so. But Jesus knows the master of the feast will be impressed with it. And impressed he is. The master of the feast goes to the bridegroom, and he says to him, ‘not only is there now plenty of wine for everyone (about 180 gallons when you do the math) but (he says) you have saved the very best for last.’ We can imagine the relief and rejoicing for everyone.
Okay, it’s a good story; disaster averted … but what does it have to do with us? I said earlier that I wanted us to consider what a wedding signifies. First of all, a wedding signifies a covenant, a commitment, a promise to love and to cherish. In the passage from Isaiah, that is what God is promising to his people, using the metaphor of marriage. We know that Isaiah is writing to people who are desolate and desperate. The Hebrew people have been through the disaster of captivity, exile, and the destruction of their city, but God promises to replace their desolation with delight. He tells them that their homeland of Zion will be “married;” in other words, the people will once again love and cherish their restored land and city.
And furthering the metaphor of marriage, Isaiah says, “as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.” I love what the footnote in my Bible says about these verses:
Boldly drawing on a familiar human image of inexpressible joy and delight, God says his delight in his people will be like that of a bridegroom’s delight in his bride. Isaiah explains that in God’s great plan of salvation, he not only forgives his people, protects them, heals them, provides for them, restores them to their home, reconciles them to each other, transforms them so they are righteous, honors them, exalts them above all nations, and makes them a blessing to all nations, as he called them to be—but more than all these things, he actually delights in his people.
Isaiah does yet something else here with the metaphor of marriage that gets to another point I wanted to make about a wedding, and that is, what happens as a result of a wedding. One of the things that happens to the bride in a wedding is that, at least traditionally, she gets a new last name. In our culture today, there is some variation to this, but again, speaking traditionally, a wedding results in the bride getting a new name. Isaiah depicts God as the bridegroom and God’s people as his bride. A wedding is such a fitting and hopeful metaphor for our relationship with God because it illustrates the fact that God wants more than anything to be in relationship with us. God loves and cherishes us, he rejoices in us as a bridegroom rejoices over a bride; he delights in us. And, sisters and brothers, God wants to give us a new name.
We know there are several places in the Scriptures where people enter into a relationship with God and receive a new name. When God enters into a covenant relationship with Abram, he renames him Abraham; then he changes Abraham’s wife’s name from Sarai to Sarah. Continuing his covenant with Abraham’s descendants, God changes Jacob’s name to Israel.
In the New Testament, when Simon declares that Christ is the Son of God, our Lord gives to Simon the new name of Peter.
Friends, this name change, this new identity is not just for these biblical characters. The promise of a new name is for us as well. God wants more than anything to be in relationship with us, to call us his own and to delight in us as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride. The good news for us today is that, in spite of our sinfulness, in spite of what desolation or disaster or failure or humiliation or disgrace or brokenness we have experienced and maybe have even brought on our ourselves, we have a God who delights in us. And when we enter into relationship with him, we receive a new name, a new identity.
I want to point to one more reference in the Scriptures where the people of God receive a new name.
It is in Revelation 3:12, and it is a description of the name we will receive at the last. (SLIDE) “To the one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name.” (ESV)
This tells us that when we persevere to the end of this journey of life and we are with the Lord, he will give us a new name. As a bride receives a new last name when she gets married, we each have the promise of receiving a new name at the last, at the end. It will be a new name, as well as our last name, our final name, our eternal name, and it will be God’s best name for us.
Just like the wine at the wedding of Cana, God is saving the best for last. For now, you may feel that you have the name, Ashamed, or Forsaken, or Desolate, or Abandoned, or Despised, or Defeated, or Broken, or Humiliated or Disgraced. But sisters and brothers, that is not your last name. God has another name that he wants to give you. God promises to give you a new name, your last and final name, your eternal name. God has promised to name you, My Beloved, My Cherished, My Pride, My Joy, My Redeemed, My Restored, My Delight.
Friends, when by the power of the Holy Spirit we persevere in faith until the end, our new name and our last name will also be our best name. Thanks be to God for the promise and the assurance that is he is saving his best for last. Amen.
 Some insights for this sermon were derived from Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 1, Westminster John Knox Press, 2009. 242-265.
 English Standard Version Study Bible; Crossway Bibles, Wheaton, Illinois, 2008. 1353.