John 2: 1 – 11 ~ Epiphany 3
Is there anyone who has not been to a wedding, – no – I thought not.
Some theologians believe that this story of the marriage feast at Cana may have been a pivotal point at which Jesus instituted the sacrament of matrimony. A sacrament is a human symbolic action – an outward sign of God’s presence and power. The church recognizes Christian marriage as sacred, a way to achieve closeness to God, and a very public symbol of Gods relationship to Gods people. Can anyone think of other sacraments which we share? – I was interviewed for the new Church of England website they asked about my faith and my views on a variety of things, one of the questions was – what do you understand by A Sacramental Church? Eeek – I was not expecting that – I answered but I hope they did not publish it as it was not a good representation of the sacrements – Baptism, Communion (Eucharist), Confirmation, Reconciliation, Anointing of the sick, Holy orders.
What is the purpose of the story that we heard today from the small village of Cana? It begins with what could be an ordinary problem – well not in Liverpool maybe – running out of alcohol at any event would be a disaster, unless of course it was a non-alcoholic event. At our wedding in the Dingle. There was an issue over alcohol which was cultural, two sets of parents with different ideas of alcohol at a wedding, one who believed that Champagne is the only drink and another culture – my Dad who believed in having a small amount of wine and enough beer for everyone to have a great time. Having enough alcohol for your guests could be a big issue, for the family in Cana running out could be a sign of poverty, which would have brought shame on the family – today weddings are probably second only to Christmas when people get deep into debt to put on a feast. And Jesus always challenges us to act to stand alongside the poor and reduce inequalities.
The theme of a wedding – a rite of passage in time and in generation after generation – a special/ordinary event in the lives of many ordinary families. This wedding appears to have been an inclusive feast for the whole village – not a small wedding if Jesus whole family and all the disciples were invited.
The story of the wedding at Cana comes just after the first gathering of the disciples – Angus Ritchie writing in the Church Times quotes one of my hero’s Jean Vanier (founder of the L’arche community) Jean considers Jesus presence at the feasting. When Jesus was preparing for his ministry as we will see in Lent he went into the desert to face his own demons to build his knowledge and understanding of himself. Jesus could have taken the disciples out into the desert for a spiritual experience or taken them for an educative experience to deepen their knowledge of the scriptures, instead he takes them to a week of feasting in a small insignificant village and whilst there reveals himself and the nature of his mission in this act of transformation.
In the Christmas story we read a month ago we read that Mary was willing and open to Gods work and held all that had happened in her heart – she was by all accounts a reflective person – her son has been obedient to her through his growing and development to adulthood but now it is time for him to assert his authority.
We don’t know much about Jesus life as he was growing up or about his relationship with his mother/brothers until he began his ministry… but this story indicates that they have a good relationship as Mary takes Jesus comment in her stride and then tells the servants to do whatever he told them to.
Nevertheless Mary is able to influence Jesus to bring about a change…
Jesus was just at the beginning of his ministry and would have been seen as Mary and Joseph the carpenter’s son, an ordinary man – but when told the waiters to fill the jars with cold water they may not have understood but they did as he asked. Jesus seems to have had authority… right at the beginning of his ministry – this must have been learned and honed through his childhood, adolescence and of course in his own retreat to the wilderness to face his own demons – fears and concerns.
Jesus was a social being, which brought a lot of criticism – he did not separate himself from the world – his family were part of his social scene too, well Mum and brothers.
Jesus did not waste any time in asserting himself in a public way – using as always the resources to hand – this was his first miracle – the water jars which were used to hold water to wash the people’s feet were now to be transformed into vessels which serve wine – there was no longer any space to store water for ritual washing – the jars were now filled not just with any wine or the wine that people had been drinking but with the very best wine.
Iona community – Drama of the wine merchant and the impact of Jesus miracle…where is this best wine and why is it not available to everyone now – the impact of Jesus transformative power is wider than we know or can ever imagine.
This is not a billionaires wedding people probably used local resources and involved friends, family and community. Jesus told the servants – to draw some water out and take it to the man in charge of the feast. Jesus was intervening to support the poor right here.
This week there was a story of a wedding aboard a Lantam plane on 18th January 2018 is memorable because of how the Pope intervened, two members of the crew had not been able to marry in their own church as it had been damaged in an earthquake – They had a civil ceremony and asked the Pope, who happened to be travelling on their flight for a blessing. The reaction of the Pope reminds me so much of Jesus reaction at the wedding in Cana – such huge generosity..
The servants on Jesus instruction took the water which had now turned into wine to the man in charge of the feast – the wine carried Jesus transformational power – life in all its abundance, the master tasted the wine. Knowing Jesus is exciting and challenging – Jesus works with each of us using our ordinary lives to bring about abundant life. The man in charge of the feast did not know where this wine had come from (but of course the servants who brought the wine knew). We don’t know the reaction of the servants, but they were obedient and willing, and we can only guess the impact on them, they would probably have come in for a lot of abuse and criticism had there been no wine, Jesus had certainly impacted on their day. The man in charge of the feast (no name or relationship to the bride and groom), called the bridegroom and said to him, “Every-one serves the best wine first and after the guests have had plenty to drink he serves the ordinary wine. But you have saved the best wine until now.”
The prophets that came before Jesus brought the word of God and now here is Jesus, he is God the best has been saved till the last – God came to be with us, to work with and through us – collaborating with us to make a difference – to be part of the transformation of the whole world…
As I said weddings have been in the news this week, a royal wedding – Prince Harry, Megan Markle and UKIP that will be a millionaire’s wedding – but that is not the story that inspired me – no it was the Pope, on that internal flight from Santiago to Iquique in Northern Chile. The Pope was asked to bless a marriage – but he offered much more – “Would you like me to Marry you?” What a wonderful gift to this couple. A hand written marriage certificate was produced by a cardinal – this Pope has a reputation for going the extra -mile. What a role model ….
The Pope as other church leaders has a global and individual understanding of living faith. In a speech at the Vatican in 2013 the current Pope said: “We have created new idols. The worship of the golden calf of old has found a new and heartless image in the cult of money and the dictatorship of an economy which is faceless and lacking any truly humane goal.” He continued: “Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalised: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.”
Bernie Sanders (longest serving independent US senator) writing this week in the Guardian considered what we need to do to reduce inequality to bring lasting change – he quoted the Pope and gave just one example of what could be achieved. A few years ago, the Tax Justice Network estimated that the wealthiest people and largest corporations throughout the world have been stashing at least $21tn-$32tn in offshore tax havens in order to avoid paying their fair share of taxes. “If we work together to eliminate offshore tax abuse, the new revenue that would be generated could put an end to global hunger, create hundreds of millions of new jobs, and substantially reduce extreme income and wealth inequality. It could be used to move us aggressively toward sustainable agriculture and to accelerate the transformation of our energy system away from fossil fuels and towards renewable sources of power.”
Jesus first miracle was performed in a small village Cana in Galilee – and this miracle opened the door to transformation for the whole world because it was here Jesus first revealed his glory and his disciples believed in him. Jesus action and the impact of his life was both individual and global. This is our role model – Jesus chose his disciples and then took time to build relationships with them.
Margaret Mead – an anthropologist said – Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world, indeed it is the only thing that ever has.
The miracle of water into wine can be looked at in many different ways and there is always more to learn…
Dr. Stanley Vacu identifies a process through reflection on this passage he identifies 5 steps to coming to faith and working with God for transformation – I have added a sixth …
Invitation – as Jesus was invited to the wedding feast we invite Jesus into our lives
Intercession – as the servants? (we never really know who identified the problem) made Mary aware, she made Jesus aware of the need – we bring our needs, and the needs of the world known to Jesus
Instruction – Jesus was a young man a carpenter with his mates – he had authority and people listened to him – we need to listen to Jesus – it may not have made immediate sense to the servants to fill up the water jars but they did it…
Involve others – Mary told servants to do whatever Jesus commanded – we are called to be in community – so maybe it is not always within our gift to act – we need to involve others.
Instruments – we are instruments, servants, activists – there is a saying – God has no hands but our hands – God/Jesus can use whatever gifts, strengths we have – we may seem to be ordinary like the stone jars and water but we are also servants
Inspiration – every time we see God at work it deepens our faith, makes us stronger giving inspiration and impact to others
Mary’s reaction is typical of what we know of her – she responded to the problem – she had faith – she got involved – she spoke to her son.
When we identify need we need to consider our reaction – we have a responsibility to get involved and to act with generosity – but this is hard – of my challenges is what to do when I see homeless people on our streets – do I get involved and to what extent. Sometimes I do something but other times I cannot. We can tell others about the need and we support the Whitechapel project, we have a responsibility to work for change at an individual level and at a global level. How we do that will be different for each one of us dependent upon our personal resources.
We read that after the wedding feast Jesus and his mother and brothers and disciples went to Capernaum and stayed there for a few days, maybe to recover from the feasting but – The family stayed together with the disciples – an opportunity for new friends/disciples and family to learn more about each other.
Building relationships was essential as these were the people who would be hugely important in Jesus life and would be very crucial to his ministry, they needed to spend time building their strength – growing in trust, knowledge and truth – his family and friends. Building relationships with others is important for us as a church.
I want to finish with the words from this morning’s text from Revelation: Then the angel said to me, “write this, Happy are those who have been invited to the wedding-feast of the lamb”, and the angel added, “these are the true words of God”. I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said to me. ” Don’t do it, I am a fellow servant of yours, and of your brothers, all those who hold to the truth that Jesus revealed – Worship God for the truth that Jesus revealed inspired the prophets.
May Jesus inspire us each day as we go about our ordinary lives in the knowledge that if we have faith, and get involved we can make a difference individually and globally because we are all part of God’s transforming work.