On the day after the presidential election in 1960, two companions sat down with their 10-cent hamburgers at a Nashville restaurant. For these companions, this event was a sign: a sign of hope that the world in which they lived might recognize them as persons that could make a difference. Their sign of hope was soon shattered as another's sign of hatred took over. A visibly distressed waitress, presumably following orders from the owner, poured cleansing powder down the backs of these companions. Water was poured over their food, while the companions ate what they could of their meal.
Hours later, the companions returned. Their request to speak to the manager was met with another sign.
The restaurant was being cleared for emergency fumigation. While these companions were still in the restaurant, the manager locked the front door and turned on a fumigating machine and exited the rear, leaving the two companions there in the restaurant amid the rising chemical spray.
The two, James Bevel and John Lewis, endured for some time with prayers and remembrances of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace. A news photographer was snapping pictures of the two gasping figures inside when the manager returned with the door key to release them. But the sign had already been posted for all to see.
The fumigation dramatized what he believed about African Americans and the civil rights movement. It was a powerful, yet negative sign, during a time of many signs.
The gospel lesson for the second Sunday after Epiphany tells of another sign that occurred at the wedding of Cana (John 2:1-11). History tells us that the times in which Jesus lived were times of distress and change. The people did not govern themselves. Taxes were exorbitant, leaving many families in poverty.
The people were frightened day to day and concerned about how they would get by. The ministry of Jesus left the lives of many people changed; indeed, the whole course of life changed, and according to the gospel of John, the wedding of Cana was the first place that these life-changing signs occurred.
The writer of the gospel of John never refers to the extraordinary deeds of Jesus as miracles or mighty acts as do the other gospels. Rather, these deeds are referred to as signs. A sign is an action that on the surface might mean very little more than just a good deed, but deep within, if we really see the action, the sign becomes much more meaningful because it shows how things can be.
At the wedding of Cana, Jesus is attending with family and friends. The unthinkable happens; the host runs out of wine.
To run out of wine at a marriage feast was more than just a disappointment. It was a breakdown of social responsibility that established one as honorable or disgraced for the rest of his life. Jesus' mother informs him of the situation, and after some conversation questioning whether it is the right time for signs, Jesus' mother tells the servants to obey him. The jugs of water used for purification were nearby, and Jesus transforms this water in wine that is better than the wine before. And Jesus makes this wine in abundance.
Not only did Jesus save the day for the host of the wedding, Jesus offered a sign of the transformation that was about to take place in people's lives and that can take place in lives today. Jesus Christ, our Lord, through God, the creator and the power of the Holy Spirit, supplies for real needs in a manner that is better than even the best that went before, and God does so in abundance.
This transformation was a sign to those who were at that wedding feast, and it is a sign for us today. But what does it point to? It points to the God's reign, the reign of God that begins and continues in our hearts each and every time we believe.
The reign that Jesus came to show each of us, a reign of justice and peace. It is a reality that is so desperately needed, not only throughout our world on a large scale, but also in the lives of our friends and family members right around us. It is a reign that will dissolve anger and hatred and fear and distress and worries and crisis and greed and suffering. It is a reign that can transform.
Each day that we live is an opportunity to create a sign or be a sign or do something that is a sign to this reign of God. You and I have the opportunities to be powerful signs for God's justice and love.
What we say, what we do and how we say and do things can be powerful signs. Let us hope that our signs are not negative, but trust God that the Spirit is leading us to be signs of hope and justice and point to God's reign of justice now and forever.
Soli Deo Gloria! To God alone be glory!