Saturday, January 19, 2019

Epiphany 3 - Turning Water into Wine

John  2.1-11
Over my many years of involvement with weddings, I think you could say that I’ve seen them all!  I’ll never forget the bride who had taken rather too much liquid courage, and who went down the aisle waving to all her friends and relations.  “Hello Auntie Freda!”.  “Hello Sarah - thank you for coming!!

                Then there was the bride who wanted the perfect wedding.  Six white horses pulled her carriage some 10 miles from her home.  She had white doves in cages on either side of the church door.  Everything was colour co-ordinated to the ‘nth’ degree - even the bridegroom’s pocket handkerchief had to match the flowers and the order of service.  I had, of course warned her that something was bound to go wrong - for nothing in life is absolutely perfect.  The great moment of her entrance arrived, and as she lifted her foot over the church step, we all heard the terrible riiiip as she caught her petticoat on her shoe!

                I’m very happy to say that my own daughter had heard all these stories over the years - so she knew that expecting perfection was a pointless exercise.  Which is why she was able to be so amused by the fact that at her wedding, the best man left the wedding rings back at their flat - and had to go and retrieve them during the first hymn!

                I have to say, though, that I have never yet been to a wedding which has run out of booze.  These days, I suppose, if that did happen, we’d be able to dispatch the ushers to an off-license to fetch some more.  But such consumerist luxuries were not available to the people of Jesus’ time.  So when the wedding at Cana ran out of wine, no-one except Mary knew what to do about it.  She knew her own son - and even though he had not performed any public miracles yet, she clearly knew what he could do.

              There’s a lovely intimacy to the conversation that takes place between them.  Mary presents Jesus with the problem. “They have no wine”.  Jesus’ response is initially rather defensive.  “Woman, what concern is that to you and me?  My hour has not yet come”.  But Mary knows her son.  She knows that he won’t be able to stop himself from helping.  So she doesn't reply to Jesus - she just turns to the servants and says “Do whatever he tells you”.

                And, of course, you know the rest of the story.  By turning plain water into glorious wine, Jesus performs his first public miracle - and (in John’s words) ‘revealed his glory’. 

                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 epiphany moment 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 mansion, good health and wealth.  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.  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.

                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 in the exuberant celebration of each moment of life - trusting that God is present now, that Love is at work now. 

                God is not only found in our Sunday morning Eucharist - though this is the central act from which our whole community-life flows.  Here we drink the greatest wine of all - the wine that offers us food for the journey of faith.  Wine which is infused with the very presence and reality of God.  But God is also found in the concerts and events we enjoy together, in the love shared among the Monday Club here in church, in the sharing of time and talents in our charity shop, in the coming together of community in our Play Café, in the sharing of a warm welcome by our week-day church stewards.

                Sadly, there are some Christians who have a gift for turning the best wine back into water. I mean there are some whose service of God seems so joyless, that its hard to believe they have any good news to share at all.  I’m talking about the kind of Christian who thinks that their personal view of God is the only one possible, and who spend a great deal of their time attacking and opposing other Christians.  It could be said that such people have a gift for turning wine back into water!

                But that’s not what I see here, at St Faith’s.  I see a group of people who are deepening and growing in faith, turning water into wine with every encounter, every meeting, every act of faith.  For every time there is laughter among us, water turns into wine.  Every time that a building is made ready to better-serve the community, we turn water into wine.  Every time we help a homeless person, or set a young person on the journey of faith, we turn water into wine.

                Come on in, and taste the new wine of the Kingdom!  Amen.

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