Sunday, 20 January 2013

On the strong stuff

Epiphany 3.

Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. 1 Corinthians 12.

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ John 2.

Probably the most defining characteristic of the Christian view of God, is that it is Trinitarian.
It’s hard to picture God, and maybe we shouldn't try, but someone has said that different Christians relate to different members of the Holy Trinity.
Some warm to the idea of the Father, a perfect Father figure.
Some to the Son; after all, he was a human being and we read about him in the New Testament.
But the Spirit…?
How do you picture the Spirit and how does the Spirit feature in your faith?

The first sermon I ever preached in church, nearly 7 years ago, was on the subject of transformation from 2 Corinthians 3, where Paul writes ‘and we, who with unveiled faces, all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.’
‘The Lord..who is the Spirit…’
More about the ill fated sermon in a minute...
The Spirit is intimately connected to Jesus; we say in our Creed that He proceeds from the Father and Son and with the Father and Son, He is worshipped and glorified.’
We think about the Spirit particularly today in our first reading.
And out of the three persons of the Trinity, it is the Spirit who perhaps deals most in our transformation (as far as we can isolate the role of one 'person' of the Godhead, which is not far).

My ‘transformation sermon’, however, got me into a bit of hot water.
Most off-putting cover for a Christian book ever?
It was a congregation of youngish people and I thought the topic ‘Transformation’ might touch a nerve – after all, young people are always trying to transform their lives and embrace the latest thing, whether it is health fads, beauty products, or getting into meditation to soothe the stress of modern life.
So we looked at how meeting with Jesus transforms us from the inside out, which unlike personal attempts at change, makes a lasting, eternal difference.
I found out later that it was a bit too ‘strong’ for some people.
They were actually a bit scared off by the idea of transformation.

I’m not sure what those people thought church, or Jesus Christ was all about.
When he turned the water into wine at the wedding in Cana, Jesus meant it to be strong stuff.
That’s the difference between water and wine.
Water is a life giver, of course; but wine is a joy giver.
If we’re not open to change, to transformation by the power of the Holy Spirit as Christians, then what are we here for?

Our first reading from 1 Corinthians 12 speaks of the power and the gifts of the Spirit.
They are ours to use, even us ordinary Christians in this small village.
The gift of healing; the gifts of wisdom or miraculous utterance (aka ‘tongues’); the gift of discernment, the gift of prophetic words.
The gifts given by the Spirit to ordinary Christians like you and me are expressions of our diversity in unity, in Jesus.
We are the body: He is the head.
Not everyone receives the same gifts.
We all complement each other in the body, if we’re functioning well.

Graham Cray, Leader of the Fresh Expressions Team and the Archbishop’s Missioner, writes this about the body of Christians, a body which we celebrate particularly at the beginning of this week of Christian Unity:
‘The church is a living organism with Jesus Christ himself functioning as head. In seeing Jesus as head, we must take seriously the notion that he is not head emeritus. He is not some titular Chairman of the Board, who is given nodding acknowledgement while others run his organization; he is not the retired founder of the firm.’ 

(Discerning Leadership, Grove Book, p. 7).

Jesus is living in his church by the Holy Spirit; if He weren't  we would be just a group of people trying to recall the good old days when he walked the earth, but otherwise going about our lives as though nothing had happened.
As it is, we are a living organism, with Christ as the living Head.

So when Jesus came to turn water into wine, he didn’t stint on transformation.
It was all 6 stone water jars, each containing 20 or 30 gallons, which he transformed into wine.
John’s gospel is probably the gospel with the densest and most pronounced symbolism.
John is saying here in John 2 that the Jewish purification rites, ways by which you could come to a Holy God, are being superseded by something new, something Jesus-oriented.
The heavenly banquet is called to mind – the feasting and celebration at the wedding supper of the Lamb.
The wine of the new covenant is called to mind – made into something even further in Jesus’ Last Supper discourse: ‘drink this in remembrance of me.’
The third day is called to mind: ‘on the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee: on the third day he would rise again.
The wine is not any old wine either.
The host of the wedding says ‘Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.’ 

Jesus doesn’t stint.
His purpose is that we live the new life of the Spirit in the here and now, using the gifts he longs to give to the church.
And this will transform us.
I wonder if you have ever asked yourself: ‘what gifts has God given me that I can use in his service?’
Looking round the church, some gifts are obvious: we have musical people; we have people who are especially caring and good at listening; we have people who are bold with God’s words into a situation; we have people with the gift of administration; we have others who are wise; who are good at reading the bible or praying out loud.
If we are in his body, we will have some sort of gift.
If you’re not sure if you’re using your gifts in the church, ask someone who knows you well; ask for opportunities to use your gifts.
That’s the way we build up the church for growth and outreach.

Lastly, why is the wedding at Cana set for this third Sunday in Epiphany?
The clue is in the last verse of the gospel:
‘Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.’
Although the amazing thing about the miracle of the water onto wine was that only a limited number of people seemed to know what had actually gone on.
The host didn’t realize; probably the guests didn’t realize.

Mary knew, and Jesus’ disciples knew, and put their faith in him.
We are supposed to move in the miraculous, but it’s not for show.
It’s so we can point to Jesus and be transformed by his Spirit into the church he wants us to be.
A church of people willing to be transformed, filled with the Spirit and using the gifts he has given, for the good of others, is our prayer and our hope at this Epiphany-tide.
May God give us the new wine of his joy as we pray to be such a church.

1 comment:

  1. "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new." 2Co 5v17 You don't get much more of a transformation than that! And of course, you can't put new wine in old wine skins! We must be transformed and renewed so that we can accept the New Wine.