Sunday, January 22, 2012

Water into Wine

John 2.1-11

So, there's this old priest, who over the years has become a bit of an alcoholic, right?  It's an occupational hazard, given all the wine we are supposed to finish up after communion!  Well, this old priest had to go on a long journey, and he couldn't face the prospect without a little tipple now and then along the road.  So, as he was driving along, he kept taking little nips from a bottle of gin on the passenger seat.  Unfortunately, after a few hours, his driving started to deteriorate - and he began swerving from side to side down the road, until he was pulled over by a policeman.  The priest wound down his window...

"What's the massher Occifer?"
"Father, I believe you are drunk at the wheel"
"Imposhible" said the priest.  Then the policeman pointed to the bottle on the passenger seat.
"What's in that bottle, Father?" he asked.
"Itsh water, Occifer.  Just water"
"Let me have a look" said the policeman, and the priest reluctantly passed him the bottle.  The policeman sniffed, and exclaimed,
"That's not water, Father, it's alcohol!" at which the Priest crossed himself, looked up to heaven and said,
"Jesush, you've done it again!"

I must ask you to forgive me.  Alcoholism is no joke.  As the members of Alcoholics Anonymous who meet here every Friday night will tell you, its a viscous disease, which has the capacity to take away everything of real value from ones life.  In that context, the story of Jesus turning water into wine - towards the end of a wedding feast - can be a little problematic!  After all, by the time that the wine already provided by the Host had run out, it's a fairly good bet that most of the guests would already have been very nicely oiled.  What on earth was Jesus doing making even more wine?  Was Jesus into drunkenness?  Or was Jesus perhaps pre-figuring the advice of St Paul so beloved by churchgoers who enjoy a visit to the pub at Sunday lunchtime..."thirst after righteousness"!?

This is where we have to be careful.  Frankly, we are on dangerous ground when we attempt to take many (if not most) biblical stories literally.  I have even heard stories of preachers who, convinced that every story must be taken literally, insisting that Jesus must have turned the water into grape-juice...just so that they can continue to hold on to the story as a literal fact.

Instead, as intelligent readers of Scripture, we are invited to go seek to understand the meaning behind the story.  It particularly helps if we remember who wrote this story.  John clearly had a remarkable imagination...just a quick delve into the imagery of Revelation will tell you that.  But even more so, we need to remember John's purpose in writing his Gospel.  More than any of the other three Gospels, John goes to great length to tell us what Jesus' life and death means...what the core message is really all about.  To read the Gospel of John is to enter a world of symbols and rich, deep meaning.

Interestingly, none of the other Gospel writers bothered to record the miracle at Cana.  They were much more interested in healings and exorcisms.  But something in John's imagination resonated with Cana.  He saw, in Cana, a sign that pointed to the very purpose for which Christ had come into the world.  The wedding guests saw water turned into the best wine.  John saw a man who, in this first sign, revealed the very purposes of God.

It's perhaps worth remembering that only John records Jesus as saying, “I have come that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” (John 10.10)  This is what the miracle at Cana is all about.  Water, the basic necessity of life, is changed into wine--the symbol not just of life, but of abundant, joyous, and extravagant life.

Think about it.  Water is good. There is nothing wrong with water.  There is nothing which needed fixing in the water.  Why then should Jesus need to change it into wine?  The message of Cana is that Jesus doesn't only transform the bad into the good (like when he heals the sick or casts out a demon).  The message of Cana is that Jesus has the capacity to make the good even better!  That is one of most persistent themes of John's gospel.  Jesus hasn't only come to give life, but to give life 'abundantly'.

This, then, is the promise for those whose lives are already pretty good.  The transformation at Cana is the promise for those who are already heading in the right direction--those who have a basic trust in God, those who look out for their neighbour, who do what they can, when they can, to be good Samaritans. This is the message for those whose life is already like good, fresh water - nourishing, and life-sustaining.

There's a message here:  "enjoy the water...but taste the wine!" God doesn't call us to only live lives of duty and right as they are.  Yes, we should live by the commandments - but there’s more to following Jesus than simple obedience.  Remember what he said?  “I came that they might have life, and have it more abundantly.”  Not just life, but abundant life...joyous lived in celebration and exuberance.

This doesn’t mean that God promises us each a Rolls Royce.  Neither does it mean that we will never experience pain and suffering.  But, it does mean that the good clean water of our lives can be transformed into the best wine through the love of God.  Then even the worst circumstances that life can offer can have a richness and depth that they never had before.  If we will only drink of the new wine of the Kingdom, Love can transform us, and bring meaning and richness to every human moment.

As we begin to taste the new wine of the Kingdom, we begin to look for God's capacity to transform and elevate even the most apparently awful of circumstances.  Sometimes, for example, I sit with sick and elderly people who despair of the fact that they now need others to do things for them.  Understandably, they mourn the loss of their independence, and resent the fact that they can do nothing on their own.  But then, I ask them,

"Tell me.  You have spent your entire life caring for others...your children, your friends in the church, your neighbours.  How did that feel?"  Invariably, the sick or housebound person will tell me, in so many words, that their service to others made them feel needed, wanted, and that they had a role in life.

"So," I tell them, in so many words, "isn't it time that you gave the gift of your incapacity to others?  Isn't it time that you let others feel needed and wanted - by caring for you?"

That's just a tiny example - but I think its a real example of how, if we will let it, Love has a way of pouring new wine even into difficult and tragic situations. Love has a way of helping us find new meaning, richer meaning, better, deeper taste.  The trick is to taste the wine.

Sometimes, we get fixed on a particular idea in life, don't we?  We make up our minds that we want a certain thing...a certain job perhaps, or a certain possession.  And when we don't get that job, or possess that thing, we can become listless, dry, even depressed - believing that our life will only be complete when we have achieved our goal.  But a Christian's joy is not found in achieving anything.  A Christian's joy is not found in the winning of a job, or the possession of any one thing.  A Christian finds their joy by learning that God is at work in every circumstance of life...changing water into wine.  Christians find their joy by declaring that 'Our God Reigns' whatever befalls us.  Christians find their joy in the exuberant celebration of each moment of life - trusting that God is present now, that Love is at work now.

What do people see when they look at our lives here at St Mark's?  Do they see that we have access to living water?  I hope so...and I pray that those who are thirsty will be drawn to the water of life by observing us.  But there are many who simply don’t feel thirsty.  I watch them walk past our doors every day.  They are living decent, even happy lives.  They are perfectly content.  So, what about the extra dimension?  Do our lives look like those of the servants of a God who turns water into the best wine?  Is the way we practice our faith something that turns water into wine or does it look more like turning wine into water?

I wonder...what would our lives look like...what would our church look like, if we let Jesus turn our water into wine?  Amen.

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