Sunday, 17 January 2016

Not very dry January

Sermon for Epiphany 2.

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

John 2: 3When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ 

Despite its being 'Dry January', this morning we're confronted with an overwhelming abundance of wine.

When Jesus turned water into wine at the wedding in Cana, the amount of wine produced was staggering. In fact I did some maths on this, and discovered it far outstrips the amount of wine purchased, even, for the ‘world’s 2nd most expensive wedding, between Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes (2006), which cost $2m ($2.2m when adjusted for inflation).
Held at the 15th century Odescalchi Castle outside Rome, this wedding featured a five-tiered white chocolate cake decorated with marzipan roses. They were joined by Will Smith, Jennifer Lopez and David Beckham, among others. Costs included $900,000 for guest airfare and accommodations and $180,000 for 300 bottles of wine.’ 

According to John’s account, the six stone water jars, which provided the water for the wine, each held 20-30 gallons…
If 12 bottles = 2.378 gallons
720 bottles= approx. 120 gallons (assuming the stone water jars had 20 gallons in each).
100 guests need…. 50 bottles?
720 bottles therefore, would do for 1500 guests…

It speaks to us of abundance. (‘I have come that they might have life, and have it abundantly’).


First, four interesting details of the story:

1. Jesus was invited to the wedding party (Are you the kind of person people want at their parties?) What do we deduce from this? He was a fun person to have around/he was someone who made warm friendships/he was connected in the community and known/he hallowed the most ordinary of life events by his presence (his presence at this wedding is alluded to in the Preface to the Marriage Service).

    2. Mary noticed the wine had run out and thought it noteworthy to mention to Jesus. Why? Was she embarrassed for the couple? Maybe they were not that well off and had not been able to afford enough wine. If you are welcomed into a home and not offered a drink it is in some ways a failure of hospitality. Other wedding failures one reads about have included various mishaps ironically connected to drinking too much; wearing too little; behaving embarrassingly at the post wedding dance and saying unforgivable things at the wedding reception.

Why does she ask Jesus? It shows she was used to him sorting things out – NB. she didn’t specify what he should do. This is a trap we fall into in our prayers. She didn’t say: ‘they’ve run out of wine; it might be a good idea if you tried a miracle here – you’re obviously gearing up for one; how about turning the water into wine?’ It was probably a million miles from the imagination of Mary that Jesus would do what he did, in fact. And that is how it is with how God moves by his Spirit today. In church life, especially where gifts and calling are concerned, sometimes the people who end up coming forward are not those you would have picked; sometimes money comes in from unusual places; sometimes provision comes at the last minute from unexpected sources. In fact when we’ve stopped being surprised by God, it may be a sign that our faith is growing stale.

3. Jesus appears to be reluctant to respond. He says to her: woman, what concern is that to you and to me?’ The Gr. literally says ‘what to me and to you, woman?’ (the translators insert ‘concern’). The King James says ‘Woman, what have I to do with thee?’ which makes it sound as though he doesn’t want anything to do with his mother: it seems to me rather he is questioning whether now is the appropriate time to reveal his glory. He says his hour is not yet come. The Message renders it well: “Is that any of our business, Mother—yours or mine? This isn’t my time. Don’t push me.” However, as the other gospels show, Jesus often does respond to being pushed: he’s good at planning but good at spontaneity as well: recall the Syrophonecian woman whose daughter had a demon – even the dogs eat the crumbs under the table – for which response Jesus heals outside of the house of Israel, in Gentile territory, responding across religious, ethnic and gender boundaries in the process.

4. When he does agree to do a miracle (or sign, as John would have it) it is not advertised with a loud shout. The Chief Steward makes the comment about the good wine being brought out first, whereas in this wedding party the best is left till last, but he does this without knowing how the good wine has materialised. And Jesus makes no attempt to advertise the sign. Those who will read the sign, understand it, as John makes clear when he writes 'Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him'.

So what have we discovered?

1. Jesus is good company.
    2. As soon as there’s an issue, Mary turns to Jesus but doesn’t dictate what he should do.
    3. Timing is important to Jesus but he can be opportuned. (this suggests an open future that our prayers can affect).
    4. And finally, some of the most amazing things spiritually, happen in secret.

We started with the abundance of God though, and this is the image I want us to take away.

Focus your 5 senses on the first sign of Jesus; the sheer overwhelming abundance of wine: the colour of it, the smell of it; its power to make glad the heart, and even to intoxicate. But mostly its overwhelming abundance.
We’ve said that the stone water jars each held about 20-30 gallons and were used for ritual washing.
In turning them into wine, Jesus is redefining religion to be one of celebratory abundance, to an almost embarrassing degree.
The wine would be equivalent (at the most conservative estimate) to 720 bottles. 
Remember at the 2nd most expensive wedding of all time, as recorded by the Telegraph, there were only 300 bottles of wine. This is more than double – enough for 1500 wedding guests. What was Jesus even thinking of?
It’s almost as if, once you unleash the abundance of God, you cannot really control it.

Interestingly this is what happened in the early church in Corinth. We had our first reading from Corinthians and it was about spiritual gifts... 

God not only poured down his Spirit at Pentecost, he sent gifts to his church as well. Do you know that if you’re born of the Spirit, if you confess Jesus Christ as Lord, you are able to function in the gifts of the Spirit? It’s a lovely thing to look round the family of God and see them in action – we have amongst us prophets (they say the hard things in love); teachers (they bring the Word of God alive for us); those with gifts of healing, tongues, miraculous faith and discernment. All these and many other gifts God showers on his people but the Corinthians got themselves into chaos with the gifts. They had so many people displaying so many gifts, all simultaneously; they couldn’t function properly during worship. Read on in the letter to the Corinthians to find out what happened. And when we’re in danger of having so many people volunteer to go on the PCC and use their gifts, that we’re in chaos, I’ll let you know.

Of course, often we seem to suffer from the opposite problem: and I suggest that it is one unfortunate characteristic of rural English Anglicanism. Instead of perceiving abundance we appear to see only scarcity. Not enough people, not enough money (apparently), not enough interest in Church.

I leave you with the thought that if the Lord we worship turned water into more than 720 bottles of the finest wine, and didn’t even advertise the fact, we might have got it wrong when we complain of scarcity in the Church.

As we gather round the Lord’s table and fill ourselves up from the abundant grace of Christ, may we each take out of this church the conviction that God is more than enough: for us, for our neighbours, for our community and for our church.

And may we, like the first disciples who recognised his glory, not miss the signs of God’s great abundance this Epiphany tide and throughout the new year.


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