Sunday, January 24, 2021

Turning water in wine

Text:  John 2.1-11

Water is great.  There’s nothing wrong with water at all.  It gives life.  It’s refreshing.  It’s the best drink for any human body to ingest.  But Jesus turns it into wine.  Why?

To read the Gospel according to John is to enter the world of meaning and mystery.  John’s Gospel is dense, difficult theology indeed.  Not least his opening section about Jesus being the Word of God, and the Light of the world.  (“In the beginning was the Word”…and so on.)  But John tells stories too.  And when John tells us a story, we know that he wants us to wrestle with the symbolism and the meaning behind the story.  Each story is carefully chosen, and carefully placed.  It is important.

John places today’s story right at the very start of Jesus’ ministry.  Not for John the myths about Wise Men and Shepherds.  He doesn’t address Jesus’ earthly origins, only his eternal origins as the divine Word.  In earthly terms, Jesus’ divine nature is revealed through, first, the testimony of John the baptiser; secondly, the recognition of his disciples (especially Philip and Nathaniel); and thirdly through a demonstration of divine power, by changing water into wine.  According to John, this is Jesus’ epiphany – his revelation – to the world.  It’s his first public miracle, and his first public demonstration of divine authority.

And it happens at a party!  John presents Jesus to us as something quite different from the stuffy, judgemental, religious leaders of the time.  Instead, he places Jesus right in the centre of a family gathering, and in the middle of a celebrating community – no doubt laughing and joking and enjoying the company of all those around him.

But then the moment of epiphany arrives.  The party runs out of wine.  A disaster – especially for the host of the party!  But Mary knows her son, and she knows of what he is capable. She has been his mother for 30-something years.  She has no doubt witnessed private acts of Jesus’ divine power.  So she knows of what Jesus is capable.  So she has a quiet word in Jesus’ ear.  “They have no wine”, she says – nudging him towards doing something about it.  Jesus is initially resistant (like many sons when nudged by their Mothers.  Just ask my Mother!).  “Woman”, he says, perhaps a little dismissively, “what’s that to me?  My time has not yet come”. 

Jesus is referring of course to the time for people to see and know that he is the Christ, the Messiah of God.  For Jesus, timing is everything – as I explained in my sermon on Thursday.  But Mary isn’t listening.  She knows Jesus can solve this problem, and so she somewhat forces his hand.  Calling one of the servants over she says “Do whatever he tells you”.  (I like to imagine her saying that rather ‘sotto voce’ – with a hand to the side of her mouth.  A moment of glorious, holy subterfuge!).

And the rest, you already know.  At Jesus’ instruction, huge jars of water are miraculously transformed into not just wine…but the best wine.  So what does the writer of John’s Gospel want us to understand from this story?

He places Jesus in a community, gathered together for a single purpose – the celebration of a marriage.  It is in the middle of a group of people, gathered together with a single purpose, that Jesus chooses to act.  He takes a party which was grinding towards its conclusion, with the wine running out, and with people probably making their excuses to depart.  Jesus breathes new life and vitality into the proceedings.  He kicks the party up a gear, and enables everyone to have the very best time, with the very best wine! 

This, I believe, is at least some of what John’s Gospel is saying:  Jesus can transform the most mundane, the most ordinary, the most lack-lustre event in any community’s life.  He is the new wine, whose teachings and whose presence can make any community, any town, any country into a place of joy and celebration.  But like the servant in the story – nothing happens unless that community ‘does what Jesus tells them to’ (to paraphrase Mary’s instruction to the servant).  For any community of people to taste the new wine of Jesus’ Kingdom, it has to follow the teachings of the Lord of the Kingdom.

My friends, our world is at a cross-roads.  So much of the way we have decided to live as a community is failing.  Communism has failed – and no serious economist could argue for it today, because it too easily gives power to corrupt men.  Dictatorships have failed and are failing – they are always ultimately over-thrown by the hubris of their leaders, or the power of the mob.  Monarchy has failed, and modern-day monarchs reduced to little more than cutters of ribbons.  Consumerism has failed, as evidenced by the staggering changes to our climate caused by rampant over-consumption.  The great European Project is failing, with the Brexit from its bureaucratic halls of one of its founding members. And now, we are witnessing, I believe, the early death-throws of both free-market capitalism, and even of parliamentary democracy which is being gradually eroded before our very eyes.    

In short, every system that humankind has ever tried to construct to manage its affairs has either failed, or is on its knees.  It’s time, I say, for the world to seriously listen to the teachings of Jesus, the Word, the one with divine authority to speak for our Creator.  Jesus is the only one who can save us.  His Way is the only Way worth following.

Imagine a world in which each person keeps only what they need for life and basic comfort, and gives the rest away.  Imagine a world in which no person is ever hungry, and in which there are no poor – because the people of the world learn how to share.  Imagine a world in which healing, reconciliation and forgiveness have higher value than warfare, hatred and wealth.  Imagine a world with no borders, in which Jew and Gentile, Roman and Samaritan, can sit together to enjoy the new wine of the Kingdom of God. 

Now I know, of course, that I’m speaking in lofty and poetic phrases!  It would take a miracle for such a world to ever come into being – a miracle at least as great as turning water in wine.   But as a Christian, a follower of The Christ, I can do no less than yearn for the Kingdom of God to become a reality – on earth as it is in heaven. 

So I commit myself today, anew, to straining every sinew, and to doing my part wherever I can, to bring such a world into being.  Starting here, in this place, and with the people God gives me to serve around this building. 

And, I invite you, too, to ‘do what he tells you to do’ – wherever you are, and wherever you too are called, like the steward at the wedding feast, to serve the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.



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