Lay Sermon, Epiphany 2C, St Petri
17 January, 2016.
John 2: 1-11
On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, 2 and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”
4 “Woman,[a] why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”
5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
6 Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.[b]
7 Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.
8 Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”
They did so, 9 and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside 10 and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”
11 What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
Audio Message Lay Read by Jacqui Will 17/01/2016
PRAYER: Open the eyes of our hearts, Lord, that we may know you better.
Doctor Anthony Campolo is a Baptist minister, psychologist, writer and Christian thinker. He tells a story about being truly alive…
“Several years ago I taught a course at the university of Pennsylvania entitled, ”Existentialism and Sociologism”. One semester, on the first day of class, I pointed to an unsuspecting student and startled him when I asked, “How long have you lived?” The student was taken back by the question and answered, “Well, I’m twenty two years old.”
“No! No! No!” I said. “What you’ve told me is how long your heart has been pumping blood. My question was, how long have you lived?”
The student looked puzzled and couldn’t quite grasp what I was talking about. I then told him this story of something special that happened to me when I was in year 9 and our class went on a trip to New York city…
We were taken up to the top of the Empire State Building in New York City, and, like most boys my age, I was more interested in chasing girls and crawling around the observation area. But suddenly I caught myself! I walked to the railing and peered over the edge of the building. The magnificence of the skyscrapers of New York lay before me and I stood there, stunned into reverence. In one mystical moment, I absorbed the city. I gazed at it with such intensity that if I were to live for a million years that moment would still be part of my consciousness. I was so fully alive at that moment that I sensed is had become part of my everlasting now”.
Then I looked at the student, I again posed the question, “How long have you lived?”
My student answered pensively, “When you put it that way, Doc, maybe I have lived a couple of minutes. I don’t know. It’s hard to say. Most of my life has been the meaningless passage of time between all too few moments of genuine aliveness.”
Enter Jesus. He’s at a wedding. He is going to do something that will bring the place and planet alive. It the first of seven signs in John’s gospel of God’s new kingdom.
We have heard it before. Jesus is going to change water into wine. “Big deal”, we might say! What’s that got to do with me? We might even ask why John even bothers recording this particular event. Even more; why is it enough for the new disciples upon witnessing this event to “believe”. John tells us they do: “….and his disciples believed in him”.
After this event, which John calls a “sign”, the people around Jesus are ‘in’. They have caught themselves and taken a peek over the edge of their lives and their understanding and they are alive like they have never been before. They ‘get’ the sign, and they like the boy at the Empire State Building “catch themselves” in the moment. They are “stunned into awe” as the young boy was. Up until now they had been drinking the cheap copy wine – but now they have drunk the new wine.
Dr Campolo’s student said that his life seemed like “the meaningless passage of time between all too few moments of genuine aliveness”. Is this true for many of us as we go about our daily life? Maybe sometimes it is and other times it is not. Sometimes we know the presence of Jesus and know we are very much alive in him. At other times, his presence seems a long way away and we feel a certain barrenness to spiritual life.
Why can my life seem like “the meaningless passage of time between all too few moments of genuine aliveness” as that student said?
There are probably a lot or reasons why this can be our experience. But whatever the reasons for our spiritual dryness, in this first sign of Jesus’ goodness we are invited to catch ourselves and peer over the edge of our understanding, our faith, our behaviour, and our whole life and grasp the new wine that gives new life.
This event is really all about those big water jars. It is all about those 6 big stone jars and what Jesus does with the water in those jars.
Those jars were there for a reason. In any Jewish house and at any Jewish celebration, water was used to make sure all the numerous rituals for washing cutlery, plates, cups, arms, legs, heads were kept to the letter. Those jars and the water they contained were an instrument of God’s law and were used for keeping the Law.
Any one of us who might happen to stand outside a Islamic mosque would see this ritual washing and keeping of the Law in action today. Muslim men will wash their head, arms, legs, feet and even other parts right out there in the after fountain or pool provided before entering the Mosque to pray. A person makes one’s self clean before being in the presence of God….so some believe.
Those 6 large clay jars were all about this kind of washing. They meant endless ritual purification to win God’s favour and blessing in your life. They equalled a life of activity and effort to find God, keep him happy and stay out of trouble; a self-serving life in the end, a prison of law keeping and insecurity about how God feels about us.
Jesus flooded those jars with a new thing. That was the first sign of more to come. Jesus transformed that water and all it meant in people’s lives with a new wine – a new joy. He turned that water’s law keeping purpose into the wine of celebration of the new feast of life by faith in him. The time for ritual cleansing had passed; the time for celebration and a new way of being in God’s favour and blessing had begun.
God said to that wedding couple, Mary and the disciples and those servants who saw the miracle, no more need for performance to win my approval. There is no need to try and wash yourself clean before coming into my presence because I have already washed you clean whiter than snow in your baptism and ever since!
In other words, in this sign Jesus gives he says, “I approve of you. You are partnered to my beloved Son, the Bridegroom. I’m here with you, celebrating, saving you from shame, joining with you in celebration. The banquet of joy is yours”.
The other thing about this sign is the vast amount of grace involved. Jesus turns about 500 litres of water into the same amount of good wine! God’s generosity is over-the top and enough to last a very long time.
We live in this sign. We live in the new wine of Grace where the Creator and Sustainer of all life re-creates and sustains us all in his over-the-top generosity.
So, as a dearly loved person in Christ my life is not about the meaningless passage of time between alive moments. My life is not about fearing God in the sense of being unsure of his intentions or approval. He has shown me he is sure about me – he loves me! As a result my life is not at all about appeasing him or gaining his approval by endless unsure acts of good behaviour. He pours the news wine of forgiveness and life into us and with that comes hope and joy.
He is alive. He is grace. He is forgiveness. He is acceptance. He is the new and best wine. Our lives are alive in God’s forgiveness, approval, calling, power, strength and victory. We face the world with an aliveness that can only come from the God of the universe who loves me forever. Of this I can be sure. “Nothing can separate us from the love of God, tells St Paul (Romans 8).
Just as God said he would do, he has married us and marriage is for life as far as God is concerned. ”As the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so your God will delight in you his bride” (Isaiah 62:5).
As we all make a start together in this new year there is a challenge for us who live in the new wine of the Spirit of Christ. Jesus also says that the new wine of the Spirit needs new containers to hold it– new wineskins in which the new wine can live and develop properly. He says that this new wine of the Spirit requires new containers in order for the new wine and the container that hold it lasts and ages well (Matthew 9:17).
How is your relationship with Jesus? In sync? Interdependent? In touch? A relationship of daily trust; listening, speaking?
However you are at the moment, the good news is that the sign continues. Jesus keeps on pouring! He is the sort of host who will never let your glass run dry. He is the host that never holds out on giving the best stuff to his guests. He’s not stingy or self-concerned about keeping what’s his. He pours out the best wine of forgiveness, reconciliation, love and joy all the time in his meal where he gives himself to his people for the good of all.
If you’re feeling a little brittle, old, dry, closed, guilty, angry, tired, powerless, then take the new wine today. If you have been closed to what the Spirit is doing in you, then repent and seek his new wine today. If you have fallen into judging people, keeping what’s yours, being all uptight and too concerned with your honour and standing among others, let the Spirit give you new standing and honour with the Lord of all lords today – the most important guest at every meal and the third party in any relationship.
Drink in the new wine of Christ this morning and live in sync with the Spirit everyday, relying on the Spirit’s power and grace to keep you new, open, selfless and filled with all his good gifts.
May we, body, mind and spirit
live in thanks throughout our days
then the heavenly joy inherit
where we sing our endless praise.